November 20, 2006:
The South African Air Force (SAAF) has a morale problem. The government has been trying to integrate previously all white institutions. This has been most difficult in areas that require lots of technical training and education. Like pilots. The government has set a racial goal for SAAF pilots, and wants them to be 75 percent black and 25 percent white. Currently, it is 19 percent black and 81 percent white. The morale problem arose when, recently, three top rated graduates of pilot training school, who would normally go on to fly fighters, were told that, because they were white, they would instead fly helicopters or transports. Three, less qualified black pilots would go on to fly fighters. When commanders noted the morale problem, and public outcry, they declared that it was no longer the policy to send the best pilots to fighters, but to spread the best pilots around to all flying communities. The problem here is that, flying fighters is the technically most demanding job for pilots, and the best pilots only stay in the SAAF to fly fighters. If they wanted to fly helicopters or transports, they could make more money, and fly more often, as civilian pilots. So the SAAF will end up with less competent fighter pilots (which will probably result in more accidents), and fewer, and less capable, helicopter and transport pilots as well. Since the SAAF pilots are currently 81 percent white, their morale will remain quite low until enough of them retire or quit to reach the government's goal of 75 percent black pilots. Even with the current situation, it won't be easy getting that many black pilots, as blacks with the skills to be pilots tend to prefer better paying civilian jobs. And there aren't many black pilots to begin with. In the long run, this won't mean much, beyond a higher accident rate for military aircraft, and some lost aircraft. This has been the case in other African countries, where most, or all, air force pilots are black. South Africa has no enemies in its neighborhood, and little likelihood that the SAAF would have to go to war.